King Island


Undated postcard of Currie (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

European history began with maritime explorers, sealers, castaways and farmers. Prospectors discovered tin, gold, rutile and one of the world's largest deposits of scheelite. Farmers found that the regular rainfall and green pastures were ideal for raising sheep, beef cattle and the dairy cows from whose milk they could make wondrous cheeses. King Island is also well-known for its rock lobster, abalone and giant king crabs.

Lying at the western entrance to Bass Strait, King Island has depended on marine transport for most of the last 200 years. The island's maritime heritage consists of over sixty shipwrecks, two major lighthouses Cape Wickham (1861) and Currie (1880) and two main ports. King Island has more known shipwrecks than any other part of Australia, including the Cataraqui in 1845.

King Island was opened for settlement in 1888. The next twelve years saw much development, with farming growing, Currie township surveyed and the first race meeting held. King Island Dairy came into operation, scheelite was discovered, the Record newspaper started and the King Island Municipal Council was formed. By 1910 King Island's population was 778, and Currie had a library, shops and a school.

In the next decade a wireless station, Naracoopa jetty and three churches were built, farming increased through soldier settlement, and the King Island Marine Board was established. During the 1930s the aerodrome opened and a passenger service began. After the Second World War, a further 200 farms were set up for soldier settlers, and by 1955 King Island supported 10,000 dairy cattle, 8000 beef cattle, 15,000 sheep and 1500 pigs. Naracoopa Rutile began operations in 1968, and kelp harvesting began in the 1970s.

Scheelite mining, a volatile industry, started in the early 1900s, declined in the 1920s, and increased from the 1940s, with prosperity in the 1970s. The township of Grassy owes its origins to scheelite. In later years, scheelite proved too costly to mine and in 1990 the mine closed. King Island became known for its fine cheeses in the mid-1980s and exports internationally to USA and Europe, and all over Australia.

Terry Vokes